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Saturday’s Annual Inventory

by  in Comic News Comment
Saturday’s Annual Inventory

Traditionally, at the first of the year, I take a look at what my regular monthly comic buys are. Since I just had to move the entire collection and I’m still trying to get the library-slash-office set up where those comics are going to live, I’m acutely conscious of waste. Last year I decided I was going to be much more ruthless about my purchasing habits; this year, even more so. Nothing makes you take a good hard look at the comics you’re buying like having to MOVE the whole lot of them.

I’ve been doing this long enough to note trends. The interesting — and somewhat dispiriting — thing to me is that I hardly ever ADD books. Last year I think I only added one to the rotation and though I added three this year, they are all limited series that will be concluding shortly. Likewise, one of my favorites is apparently about to be canceled. Not promising.

That said, of the books I kept on the pull list, I think overall I enjoyed them more than I did the previous year.

Marvel books took a hit in 2007 as far as my buying habits are concerned. I only kept two; Ultimate Spider-Man and Ultimate Fantastic Four.

The ruckus over “One More Day” seems even sillier when you consider that Ultimate Spider-Man is everything that Joe Quesada maintains he wants the regular book to be. You can make all sorts of arguments for and against marrying off Peter Parker, and I’m not going to rehash that all again, but really what prompted me to drop Amazing and the other Spider-titles from my list last year had nothing to do with the marriage — it was that idiotic Civil War business, which as nearly as I can tell has still screwed up all the other mainstream Marvel books I might be interested in. Why Quesada was so determined to reboot Spider-Man while he let all the other Marvel books in the line languish in the same depressing crossover continuity hell is beyond me.

Nevertheless, I was glad he seems content to let the Ultimate books alone. Ultimate Spider-Man is consistently entertaining, new-reader-friendly, and has lots of fun twists on that fabled teenage soap opera that Joe Q. claims we all clamor for. And as much as I liked what Mark Bagley was doing with the book, I have to say I think I prefer Immonen on the art. Good stuff.

Likewise, I really wonder what the deal is with Ultimate Fantastic Four that I never see anyone talking about how much fun it is.

This is a great book, and I really don’t care about the fact that this version portrays the group as teens; if that’s holding you back, I assure you it’s not something you should let worry you. The fact that Reed, Sue, Ben and Johnny are a lot younger than their non-Utlimate counterparts doesn’t mean they don’t act and sound like the four we all grew up with, which is something I haven’t been able to say about the regular book since Mark Waid and the very-much-missed Mike Wieringo left. I also like the fact that Mike Carey isn’t afraid to do a two or three-issue arc if he feels like it, and never mind worrying about the eventual trade paperback publication. Although I do feel a bit silly buying both these books as monthlies when the trades are so much cheaper. I probably should make that switch this year. But for now they are safe on the list.

Over at DC, things look a little better, though I still found myself dumping books that were mired in company-wide continuity crossover crap. It irritates me beyond belief that one of my favorite DC titles is apparently on the chopping block.

Every last one of you JLA fans out there that took the time to blog or post on a message board about how much you hated Brad Meltzer’s version or Dwayne McDuffie’s version of the Justice League, I have one question for you: What the hell’s the matter with you people that you aren’t supporting this book? Because JLA Classified is everything people SAY they want from a JLA title — big action, not tying into a bunch of other stuff, good writing, good art. Hell, it’s all *I* ever wanted from the Justice League. I suspect that the reason more people aren’t into it is precisely the reason I like it — the unpredictablilty of what’s coming next and the self-contained nature of the book. Phooey on you. I hope you at least will have the wit to pick up the trade collections.

I suppose that if JLA Classified is going away, JSA Classified is not long for this world either. I enjoy this book a great deal as well, though it’s got a slightly different mission statement than JLA Classified — it’s rotating solo adventures of JSA members.

Since none of those characters are carrying their own title at the moment, this book has a bit more room to maneuver than its JLA counterpart. This is an interesting idea, and except for the first four-issue Power Girl arc, it also is refreshingly free of crossover fever. I always enjoy it, though it never has matched the best of its counterpart.

I hadn’t actually been picking up the main JSA book since its relaunch. I liked its previous incarnation a great deal, though towards the end there was a bit more interaction with the DCU at large than I would have liked — Jean Loring becoming Eclipso was probably the low point there. At any rate, it was a book I read in trade paperback and I was fine with waiting for that to start up again, but Julie surprised me with the “Next Age” hardcover for Christmas.

I recall there was some ruckus about the book being too gory or something. On the whole, I don’t really see what the fuss was about. Maybe I’m jaded, but it didn’t strike me as being too out of control. It’s still Geoff Johns channeling the Thomas/Buscema Avengers style of super-team soap opera, writing straight-up heroic adventure, and Dale Eaglesham does a nice job on the art. If there’s a complaint to be made about this book — and I think Greg Burgas did, in fact, make it here a while back — it’s that it’s a bit familiar. But my feeling is that if there’s any place that you should be getting solid old-school super adventure, it’s JSA. So I don’t mind, especially since I haven’t seen this kind of book from Marvel (who pioneered the form) in at least a decade.

Basically if you like that sort of thing, you’ll like this book. If you don’t, you won’t. At any rate, I think I’m back on board for the trades, though I have to say that it’s extremely poor editing to include the last-page tease for “Lightning Saga” in this collection. A hardcover edition, especially, should be complete in and of itself. I don’t CARE if that last page was part of issue #4, it should have been cut from the collected edition.

The Bat books had a pretty good year. I enjoyed Batman and Detective about equally, I think.

I keep seeing people complaining about Morrison’s work on Batman being wildly uneven, and personally, I don’t see it. I guess I’m weird because the issues everyone else swooned over, I thought were just okay — “Club of Heroes” — and the ones everyone griped about — “Resurrection of Ra’s Al Ghul,” the Joker prose entry — I rather enjoyed. For me the book was just solidly entertaining all year long. In other words, it’s what I EXPECT from a Batman book.

Likewise, on Detective, I thought Paul Dini was dependably good.

I liked the simple, done-in-one approach. I especially liked his ringing in new twists on old characters, particularly Edward Nigma, private eye. Not much to say beyond that, except to wonder why this continues to be good and Countdown apparently is still so awful?

Birds of Prey held up pretty well despite losing Gail Simone.

I liked Sean McKeever’s first entry here and I think I’ll hang around. This is a hard premise to screw up, and despite the fact that I will never like the Helena Bertinelli Huntress as much as I liked the Helena Wayne version, I have come to like her well enough. Let’s hope Mr. McKeever can build on what Ms. Simone set up so well.

Nightwing was really on the bubble for me last year but barely scraped by. Oddly enough, I was about to kick it loose again this year untril I read Peter Tomasi’s first issue.

There was a lot to like about this issue, not the least of which was the fact that it was a solid reboot/fresh start/setup issue without the need to trumpet it as such from the heavens or stage a universe-spanning crossover to get it going. I appreciated that, as well as the fact that it took advantage of the Bat connection. Here’s a piece of free advice for anyone who works on Nightwing — quit trying to DODGE the Batman stuff. Everyone who comes on to this book muttering, “I have to get him out from Batman’s shadow” is making a huge mistake.

The quality that makes Nightwing unique is something that no one ever really gives any thought to — he’s the Sidekick That Grew Up. I think DC could be getting huge mileage out of that by acknowledging it in-story once in a while. That’s the thing that draws most people to the book, after all — it’s Dick Grayson, former ward of the Batman, that we’re here to read about. Take that away from Nightwing and he’s nothing, there’s absolutely no quality to distinguish him at all without the Bat pedigree. In fact, that was Dan Didio’s complaint about him, as I recall. But he had it backwards. That’s not a reason to get rid of the character — it’s a reason to tie him more closely to the Batman books.

Dick Grayson was originally created to be a viewpoint character for the reader, and today he offers a unique viewpoint on the Batman world that you don’t get anywhere else. I would love to see this be the case IN-story as well. We already see that Dick is the guy Tim Drake goes to when he is having troubles at home. Let’s see more of this. Why isn’t Alfred calling Dick when Bruce is doing something self-destructive? For that matter, why isn’t Dick calling Commissioner Gordon when he needs police information? I would love to see moments like that: the idea of a grown-up twentysomething Robin that still drops by Wayne Manor to do his laundry tickles me no end. I don’t understand why DC has kept trying to distance Nightwing from the Bat books. Anyway, it looks like Tomasi feels the same way as I do, so I am keeping this on the list for now.

The Superman books continue to entertain. All-Star Superman’s glacial publishing schedule doesn’t bother me as long as the stories continue to be done-in-one.

I don’t know that it’s as great as everyone says, but it certainly is good.

A book that gets lost in the All-Star backwash though, I think, is the regular Superman title.

Because it’s really good, too. I quite like what Kurt Busiek is doing here, despite the wonky publishing schedule: all last year I never knew if it was going to be the next part of “Camelot Falls” or a one-off or the start of some new story that might cross over into Action — but I always enjoyed it, I never felt like I’d wasted my money.

Action Comics was the weak link here, but it still was entertaining enough that I didn’t cut it from my list.

I’m enjoying this Legion story, though I have no idea if this is the current ‘real’ incarnation of the Legion or some parallel-untiverse alternate-timeline version… but the beauty part is, I don’t have to know that to enjoy it, it seems to be self-contained. I’m just grateful the creative teams have stabilized a bit — the Richard Donner stunt-casting apparently threw all the regular Superman titles out of whack. I’d think that by now editors would have learned to get ALL the Big Name Stunt Casting promised scripts safely in hand before promoting and publishing them. Call it the Kevin Smith Rule.

The great joy of 2007 for me and my regular purchases, though, was the return of the Western.

I’ve gone on at length about the joy that is the new Lone Ranger and I don’t need to do that again… but this is simply an awesomely fun book. The only gripe I have is that the pacing is such that it’s clearly written for the eventual trade-paperback collection, but I love it too much to wait for one. Recommended either way.

I do in fact wait for the trades on Jonah Hex, and I hope that doesn’t affect the book’s standing at DC — because it is extremely successful with me. I adore it.

It’s exactly the kind of book I wish DC was doing more of… solidly good stuff without any need to tie in to a larger picture. I sometimes feel ridiculously guilty waiting for the trade collection of books I like, for fear that if the monthly doesn’t sell, DC won’t continue the title.

That is, in fact, why I make it a point to pick up Bat Lash.

This is a book that will read a lot better AS a trade-paperback collection, and I hope it gets one — but I don’t want DC to think that “Westerns don’t sell,” or something. So I’m doing my part to support this one.

Likewise, I want to see more of Steve Gerber on Dr. Fate, so I never miss Countdown to Mystery.

It irks me that this only is going to get eight issues, but the good news is that the Eclipso half of the book is where all the annoying continuity stuff is, and I generally skip that. It’s Gerber and Fate that are the show here as far as I’m concerned. I had read with interest Steve Gerber’s blog entries on how he would construct this story last year, and it’s fascinating to me to see the solutions he ultimately arrived at. Which isn’t to say this new Dr. Fate story isn’t entertaining on its face, but knowing a little of the backstage process has added to the enjoyment.

And I also am supporting Crime Bible, because — against all expectations — I really like it.

It really is misleading for DC to brand it as a 52 tie-in book. I mean, maybe that helps sell it, but it doesn’t tie in to anything. It’s a lovely little self-contained piece with Renee Montoya as the Question chasing down a cult, and reading it feels like 1989 again. Greg Rucka really is channeling the feel of the O’Neil/Cowan version of the Question here, even if the book does star a lesbian ex-cop. In the latest issue the new Batwoman drops by as well. I would totally buy a new Question ongoing book if it looked like this, so I hope it does well enough for DC to consider it.

And that’s the lot. I’m exhausted. Every year I do one of these what-I’m-buying summaries and I am boggled at the stamina of Greg Burgas doing it once a week. I don’t know how he manages it. Once a year is all I have the strength for.

See you next week.

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